Firstly, let us say what it is not. It is not heaven. There will be no mixture in heaven - no tares, no leaven, and no one unsuitably clothed. The kingdom of God is down here. I am not greatly in favour of definitions, but sometimes they help us to get a grip on a subject. Another has said that the kingdom of God is “the exercise or display of the ruling power of God under any circumstances”. The key words are “the ruling power of God”.
The Jews looked for their Messiah to deliver them from their enemies and set up a kingdom here – the kingdom of God. The prophets of old looked on to the coming reign of Christ. Isaiah is rich in the descriptions of that coming age, “the habitable world which is to come, of which we speak”, Hebrews 2:5. John the Baptist announced that the kingdom was near. The Lord’s miracles were a display of the power of God that marks the kingdom. See Isaiah 35:5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing”. In Matthew 12:23, after the Lord had healed a man who was both blind and dumb, the crowds ask: “Is this the Son of David?” These were “the works of power of the age to come”, of Hebrews 6:5.
Israel’s religious leaders refused their king. Therefore the kingdom does not now take on the form of public power and glory as it will in the millennial reign of Christ; it takes on a moral form – “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”, Romans 14:17.
These two forms of the kingdom are described by the Lord in Luke 17:20-37. He is asked “When is the kingdom of God coming”? His answer is that it was in the midst of them! As we saw above, divine power was operating on their behalf; their king was in their midst. So now it is the kingdom “within”, God’s moral sway (or ruling power) in our hearts, in our lives; soon it will be “the days of the Son of man” Luke 17:22, when it will be public dominion. As another has said: “It is hidden glory now – glory within, in the Holy Spirit; the glory of a sanctuary known only to God and the worshippers. It will be displayed glory by-and-by, or glory in the world, known from one end of heaven to the other”. In this section of Luke, the Lord describes what will take place between that time (when the kingdom was among them) and its second form. He tells the disciples that he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. He tells them that on the eve of the kingdom of God taking its manifest form, or when the “days of the Son of man” would begin, that the world would be found carrying on as they were in Noah’s time, and Lot’s time. His appearing would be sudden and selective judgment would take one and leave another.
There is more to be considered in how the kingdom is manifest now. The power of God in persons made an enormous change in the world. Read Matthew 13, where we have parables and similitudes of the kingdom. In that chapter we see the way in which the kingdom takes a public form now, in the time of Christ’s absence. Israel’s rejection of him was complete in Matthew 12. They were attributing his works to the prince of demons – a direct insult to the power of the Holy Spirit. Then the Lord in chapter 13 takes a wider view than Israel, he looks out to the “field”, the world. From this time he taught them in parables, to “hide” the truth. The good seed (the word of the kingdom) was planted and grew but other seed [tares or darnel that looks like wheat] grew with it. This is what we now have in Christendom – millions who profess to be Christians, but are not real. Only the Lord knows those that are his. It began in a very small way with the apostles, and has developed into a great public body [the mustard tree] in which dwells every kind of evil influence. This is the meaning of the birds roosting there. How many strange cults are there calling themselves “Christian”? In Revelation 18:2 we are told that Great Babylon has become the habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird.
The leaven in the meal is another picture of the present state of Christendom. This parable (Matthew 13:33) describes the way in which evil notions and wrong doctrines have permeated the whole profession. Be assured that leaven is never spoken of in scripture in a good sense. Once the disciples come into the house, the Lord speaks to them of two very positive views of the kingdom in our time. Matthew 13:44, and 45-46. I believe the picture of the treasure hid in the field, and one giving his all to buy the field, points to Christ giving himself for the world, with the aim of securing what is precious for himself. As we know, the church has been drawn largely from the Gentile world - beyond Israel. The next figure of the merchant seeking beautiful pearls seems to bring out the fact that “Christ also loved the church and has delivered himself up for it”, Ephesians 5:25. I am not saying that the church is the kingdom, but it is included in it. The final simile of the fishing net cast into the sea relates again to the good and the worthless.
Scripture views the kingdom in slightly different ways, each with a slightly different emphasis. It is noticeable that Matthew speaks mostly of the kingdom of heaven - more accurately translated as the kingdom of the heavens. Matthew’s Gospel is very Jewish in its viewpoint; Jesus is presented to them as their Messiah, and the events are all looked at as the fulfillment of prophecies. In short, Israel is under test. They knew of the “kingdom of the heavens” from the book of Daniel, where king Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that “the heavens do rule” (Daniel 4:26) and finally he was able to “praise and extol and honour the King of the heavens…” (Daniel 4:37). Scripture speaks of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the heavens, the kingdom of my Father, the kingdom of the Christ and God, the kingdom of the Son of his [God’s] love, and the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These distinctions can be considered at another time.
Before closing we can look at an example of the kingdom in its display, rather than in its exercise. In three of the gospels we have the account of the transfiguration on the mountain before three of the apostles. They saw a display of the glory of the coming kingdom, described in Revelation 21:23: “And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should shine for it; for the glory of God has enlightened it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb”. The disciples were given a display of its power – “his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as the light”, Matthew 17:2.
May the Lord help us to have a clearer understanding of the kingdom, and above all, the power to practice the principles that govern it – see Matthew 5-7.